SCBWI Florida – June 2013 Conference

Last weekend, I attended the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Florida conference. It was my fourth such conference – and it did not disappoint.

With representation from the publishing world (Andrea Welch, Senior Editor with Beach Lane Books, and Maria Middleton, Associate Art Director with Abrams), the writer realm (Laurie Friedman, author of “A Big Bed for Jed” and “Love, Ruby Valentine”), and the illustrator stratum (Ethan Long, writer/illustrator of “Scribbles and Ink” and “My Dad, My Hero”), the conference was packed with professional development, profound statements, and perfect rhyme.

However, my favorite part of the conference wasn’t Mr. Long’s comparison of Frank Sinatra and Michael Buble or Ms. Middleton’s thoughts on cat vs dog narrators or Ms. Friedman’s poster board fetish or Ms. Welch’s super-sweet disposition. No, my favorite part of the conference was the opportunity to meet new friends, such as Matt Kelsen, Wendy Mintz, Alisa Jenkins, and Steven Locklin (congratulations on “Beneath Hallowed Ground”). It was refreshing to speak with each of you – to learn of your career paths, your labors of love, and your successes (in both the writing and non-writing worlds).

I also so enjoyed visiting with old friends such as Erin Fennel, Sylvia Lopez (congratulations on “Cinder-Elvis”), and Jill Siegel (congratulations on your contract with Guardian Angel). Just when “getting published” seemed unattainable, you each inspired me and gave me hope.

Finally, I met some extraordinary individuals during my critiques: Rob Sanders, Gloria Rothstein, Margaret Mincks, and Linda Shute (we had met previously but you really are a lovely person – and have a great eye for PBs). Thank you for your thoughtful comments, suggestions, and well-wishes.Although this was my last Florida conference (for now – maybe I’ll be invited back someday as an author!), I’ll be taking a piece of it away with me in the form of friendships. Thank you, SCBWI Florida!

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My Manuscripts

My manuscripts – oh yes! I should really tell you about those. They are, afterall, a part of me and, in some ways, a part of my family. Much of my inspiration comes from the two little rug rats who begrudgingly eat my arugula pesto, fill the air with Doofenschmerz quotations, and topple over with laughter at Elephant and Piggie. Jacob and Luke – these books are dedicated to you!

1. Very Brave and Very Smart. In Ming Dynasty China, Yin Li prepares for a journey to the city to deliver his family’s crops to market. In addition to his soybeans, Yin Li also packs his favorite toy – a kongzhu (Chinese yo-yo). Maybe fortune will allow him time to play with it during the long trip – or maybe not. With a thief, a tiger, and a Great Wall to conquer, Yin Li finds the trip more challenging than he expected. Will he falter along the way, or will Yin Li prove he is Very Brave and Very Smart?

2. Anthony for Presid-ANT. Anthony is fed up! He wants to play but Mom is always giving him more chores. When Anthony decides to de-throne the Queen and become Presid-ANT, he may have bitten off more than he can carry. Will he and his constitu-ants be able to celebrate his inauguration, or will it reign on his parade?

3. A Garden for Marvin. Sitting in a cracked pot, Marvin the rosebush longs for a garden to call his own. When he’s finally planted, Marvin has big plans for growth – until the other plants in the garden become a hindrance to his progress. Will Marvin’s bad attitude cause him to reap what he sows or will Marvin bloom where he grows?

4. RED!. In his primate habitat, Marty anxiously awaits zoo visitors every day – because every day presents new opportunities for Marty to acquire his dream – something red to call his own. Could a popsicle be his prize? Or a kite? Or a wagon? Is Marty destined for a life of drab color and watery disappointment or will he find a red to call his own?

5.Skip and Earl in the Park (a series). A squirrel named Earl is content with his quiet life – until a spunky chipmunk moves next door. Will Earl welcome the newcomer to the neighborhood or chase away the first potential friend he’s had in years?

6. Gross (an historical fiction tale of the childhood of Dr. Samuel Gross). Samuel has an unusually strong passion for nature. So much so that his eccentric habits have led his classmates to nickname him “Gross.” Although not a preferred name, Samuel accepts who he is. But when Samuel’s interest in plants draws the unwanted attention of Hank, the school bully, the natural balance is disturbed. Can Samuel’s quirky habits restore the balance – and save a life – or are they really just WAY too gross?

7. Prairie Ball. The prairie dogs have gathered for a duel on the diamond: the hometown favorites, the Black-Tailed Cubs, against the wily White-Tailed White Sox. With Swoop Dog and Gopher Gusto leading the line-ups, its shaping up to be a great baseball game – until an unwelcome visitor steals third, I mean the third baseman! Who will emerge the winner of this zany nail-biter? It’s one for the record books!

Get the ink flowing again…

I love the process of writing children’s picture books. Taking a simple idea and nurturing it into a manuscript – it gets me giddy just thinking about it. And if you’re reading this, maybe you get that same tingle – that same writer’s high – that I get when an idea sparks and the words start flowing.

But, if you’re new to writing, you may not be familiar with the other side to writing – the struggle. The days of fruitless revision. The days of anti-loquaciousness. The days when the writer’s block is so thick, it becomes a wall.

That being said, I have a secret. I actually don’t have too many days like that anymore. And I have a theory to explain it. You see, I have a job. Not any ole’ job – a mechanical, analytical, sequential job filled with spreadsheets, databases, and numbers. 

How, you may ask, do spreadsheets encourage writing? My theory is this: work is a completely left-brained activity. Creativity is not required and even discouraged. So, for 8-9 hours a day, my right brain hibernates. Replenishes. Rejuvenates (sounds like a good spa!).

What are the consequences of this? Blow-drying my hair, I rhyme words. Sitting at red lights, I write on receipts. Standing in the grocery line, I plunk down thoughts on my iPhone. Lounging on the sofa, I type. Writing becomes compulsion – a need – a creative outlet for the doldrums of the day.

So, am I suggesting you run out to become a CPA or data analyst? Goodness, NO! But, when ideas are slow to come or your writer’s block is beginning to take the shape of Mt. Rushmore, take a break and work your left brain for a while. Do a sudoku. Practice some multiplication tables with your kids. Listen to music with a strong bass rhythm. Follow a recipe. Roll your loose change.

 Before you know it, the creative scales will tip back in your favor and the ink will be flowing again.                                                                               Image